Barbara Becker-Cantarino. Migration and Religion: Christian Transatlantic Missions, Islamic Migration to Germany. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012. 252 S. ISBN 978-940120811-6.
Reviewed by Benjamin Marschke
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (September, 2016)
B. Becker-Cantarino: Migration and Religion
This book resulted from a conference in 2011 that compared German transatlantic migrations, specifically Pietist/Moravian missions in the eighteenth century, and the migration of Muslims, especially Turks, to contemporary Germany. The premise of the book is that the migrations of Germans to British North America in the eighteenth century are comparable to the migrations of Turks to Germany since World War II. The book then seeks to explore issues of integration, assimilation, tolerance, multi-culturalism, and religious and ethnic identity.
The first chapter, by the editor, serves as a wide-ranging introduction to the book. Becker-Cantarino explains that the culture of the Native Americans that German missionaries encountered tragically came to be seen as incompatible with the culture of the British colonies and the newly independent United States. Similarly, even writing before the rise of ISIS/ISIL, Becker-Cantarino cites no shortage of contemporary observers who attest that Islam (or at least Islamicism) is diametrically opposed to Western civilization, and Muslim migrants in Germany cannot possibly be integrated. Despite its utter failure to integrate them, „Germany is a country of immigrants” (p. 29). On the other side, compared to the eighteenth century, when German migrants understood that they were making a permanent change and readily assimilated with their new British neighbors, now migration is more temporary, more limited, and more tentative — it is much easier today to return to Turkey from Germany that it was to return from Pennsylvania to Germany in the eighteenth century. The widespread failure (or conscious refusal) of Turkish migrants to assimilate is well evidenced and has resulted in a „parallel society” within Germany (p. 33). Multiculturalism not only recognizes this „parallel society” but ignores or accepts pathological aspects of it (failure in school, misogyny, honor killings, etc.).
The chapters that follow (in roughly chronological order) are a mixed bag. The next five chapters (by Wolfgang Breul, Pia Schmid, Ulrike Gleixner, Ulrike Strasser, and Cornelia Niekus Moore) are all focused on German missionaries in the early modern period. As his title says, in „Theological Tenets and Motives of Mission” Breul explores the theological underpinnings of the relatively new Pietist/Moravian missionary impulse within Protestantism in the early eighteenth century, and his chapter serves as a kind of second introduction. Schmid investigates the Moravian Indian missions in North America through the writings of John Heckewelder. Heckewelder was much more colorblind and admiring of the Indians than most of the whites in British North America, whom he blamed for the corruption of the Indians. Gleixner describes the nuts-and-bolts of the new „Vision of a Protestant Empire” in the early eighteenth century: missions, media, funding, etc. Strasser, though she talks about „Jesuit Migrations,” is really discussing Jesuit missionaries, especially those from German-speaking lands, who made up the largest contingent of Jesuit missionaries. As do Breul and Gleixner, Strasser emphasizes that missionaries regarded overseas missions to India or the Americas in the same way as they did the conversion of Jews and Christians of other confessions within German-speaking Europe. Niekus Moore traces the worldwide distribution, reprinting, and further distribution of an eighteenth-century Pietist text: Charlotte Nebel Rambach’s “Der große Versöhnungstag” (1761). This book was rediscovered in the 1830s in the hands of German migrants in Russia and reprinted; it was discovered again in India in the 1850s, translated into English, and underwent several more printings in England and America.
Rebekka Habermas’s substantial contribution to the volume, on „Islam Debates Around 1900” is a bridge between the two halves of the book. Habermas focuses on the German discourse about Islam in the context of Germany’s colonies in Africa. Given the lack of knowledge about Islam and Africa around the turn of the twentieth century, German scholars attempted to learn more by surveying German missionaries there. It now seems ironic that when World War I broke out, the German regard for Islam shifted: missionaries’ negative analyses of Islam were silenced, and jihad (against the Entente powers) was encouraged.
Five chapters follow (by Claudia Breger, David Gramling, Kamaal Haque, Thomas Schmitt, and Karl Ivan Solibakke) about Muslims in in present-day Germany. Breger’s piece discusses several ways that contemporary analysts have explained German xenophobia, racism, and identity in what Jürgen Habermas called „our postsecular society.” Breger shows that the German antipathy towards migrants is increasingly in terms of religion („Muslim”) rather than nationality („Turkish”), and that the (undefined!) Enlightenment has displaced Christianity as a universal and unquestionable truth in German discourse about immigration and assimilation. Gramling’s piece dismisses the apparent self-contradictions about „secular Islam“ and instead describes seemingly irreverent expressions of Muslim identity as „hybrid expressions“ of a sustainable laicism, analogous to „secular Judaism“ or „secular Catholicism.“
Haque’s brief chapter on Iranian, Afghan, and Pakistani immigrants in Germany is a weak link in this book. It largely reiterates statistical and survey data from 2009 to show the size and status of these groups in Germany, which seems superficial and now out-of-date. In the „Mosque Debates“ Schmitt explores issues such as practical problems (parking), religious intolerance (banning minarets but not church towers), and symbology, and concludes with a call for fairness, consideration, and tolerance. No one who follows current events in Germany will be surprised when Solibakke in his „Response to Thilo Sarrazin’s Deutschland schafft sich ab,“ points to the author’s blatant xenophobia and eugenicism. The strength of Solibakke’s analysis is when he points to the „money cult“ at the core the argument of Sarrazin’s argument: For Sarrazin, a former financier, Germany’s prosperity is a sign of its moral strength and righteousness, and the relative poverty of immigrants is a sign of their moral decrepitude and failure.
A conference and a book based on such an ambitious comparison inevitably leaves itself open to criticism. The premise of this book is that „mission“ and „migration“ are comparable, but they really seem to be apples and oranges: Early modern German overseas missionaries are hardly comparable with Muslim immigrants in Germany today; and no serious scholar would seriously compare the situation of twenty-first-century „indigenous“ Germans with the plight of eighteenth-century Native Americans. Perhaps it is significant that in both meta-examples presented here (German overseas missions, and migrants in Germany today), hegemonic power and knowledge rests with the Germans. Also, the focus on religion as a locus of ethnic difference is valid and good, but what seems to be missing at some points is a discussion of underlying socio-economic factors — not only the economic motivations for migration (which has characterized Turkish migration to Germany), but also the tendency of Germans to regard the „other“ as socio-economically „unproductive“ and ultimately „criminal.“
The editor and the translators are to be applauded for producing in English a book featuring mostly Germanophone authors — this doubtlessly required much time and energy, but it has paid off in a very readable book. However, the copy-editing of the book leaves much to be desired, and basic typographical errors, misspellings, and formatting errors abound: Shame on Rodopi.
Though the material of this conference and book was quickly overtaken by the more recent „refugee crisis” in Europe, it offers a thoughtful framework in which to understand the German struggle to come to terms with the non-Christian and foreign „other,” and therefore this book has only become more relevant.
Benjamin Marschke. Review of Becker-Cantarino, Barbara, Migration and Religion: Christian Transatlantic Missions, Islamic Migration to Germany.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.